U21 Premier League
Derby County 1 (Calero 71) Arsenal 0
Arsenal U21s suffered their third defeat of the campaign as they were beaten 1-0 away to Derby County this evening. Derby were impressive throughout and scored the game’s only goal through Ivan Calero in the closing stages of the second-half.
Arsenal struggled to create many clear cut chances but they did come perilously close to equalising when Krystian Bielik’s towering header was cleared off the line by Rhys Sharpe.
Arsenal named a strong side, with January acquisition Bielik making his first appearance at this level after two outings for the U18s. Chuba Akpom, who was an un-used substitute at Old Trafford last night, was also called upon along with Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, who hadn’t featured since October because of injury.
Deyan Iliev, meanwhile, started in goal, suggesting that the Macedonian, who signed a new contract with the club last week, may have overtaken Matt Macey as the club’s first-choice custodian at U21 level.
There was no place, however, for Serge Gnabry, whose arduous quest for full fitness continues.
subs: M. Bola (for Ormonde-Ottewill, 75), Mavididi (for Zelalem, 78). Not used: Macey, C. Willock, Jebb.
These sides drew 1-1 when they met at Meadow Park back in August and from the offset Derby seemed intent on making life difficult for Arsenal again.
First Shaq McDonald sent a shot wide of the far post, with Dan Crowley doing likewise at the other end as Arsenal mustered something of a response.
There was a considerable scare for the young Gunners shortly afterwards when Ormonde-Ottewill had to clear the ball off the line after Jamie Hanson chested Calero’s corner beyond the reach of the stranded Iliev.
It soon became apparent that Calero, a product of Atletico Madrid’s academy who also spent time with Real Madrid’s esteemed youth set-up, was a danger to the Arsenal defence, with the 19-year-old playing an astute pass into the path of Callum Guy, who shot just over.
Derby were certainly on top in the opening period, but Arsenal still had their moments, such as when Alex Iwobi, who has been in good form of late, saw an effort deflected wide following impressive build-up play from Crowley and Gedion Zelalem.
McDonald and Kwame Thomas both came close to scoring as the hosts ended the half well, but Crowley did manage to bring a good save out of goalkeeper Kelle Roos with a low strike.
Derby’s dominance continued after the break, with Hanson emerging from the middle of nowhere to almost find the net with a free-kick, before the same player later struck the crossbar from a similar situation.
Derby had come close to scoring on several occasions and they were eventually rewarded for their persistence when they found the net in the 71st minute. The goal stemmed from a neat passage of play from former Arsenal youngster Alban Bunjaku, who received possession before forcing a corner with a deflected shot.
Derby took the lead from that set-piece, with Calero directing a powerful effort beyond the reach of Iliev.
Calero tried to double his tally almost immediately, but this time the cultured midfielder’s effort went just wide of the far post.
Arsenal introduced Stephy Mavididi, a striker born in Derby who has been playing well recently, but despite some concerted late pressure from Steve Gatting’s side, which included Bielik having a header cleared off the line in the dying moments, the hosts held on to claim all three points.
Arsenal’s next assignment at this level is away to Blackburn Rovers next week.